Kate Rockwood

From Summer Slump to Summer Bump

Bakery counter lines may be long around Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, but when summer hits, the crowds begin to thin. Consumers’ demand for holiday treats and cozy fall flavors gives way to cravings for ice cream and other frozen novelties. 

“There’s no question; summers tend to be slow for us,” says Sharin Nathan, chef and owner of Sweet Sensations Pastry, a bakery in Chicago.

To prevent a slow period from becoming a summer slump, savvy artisanal bakery owners use this time to test new products and revamp their marketing efforts. 

“When we’re super busy, testing a ton of new recipes and products just isn’t an option,” Nathan says. Around the holidays, high sales mean employees have to focus on keeping up with orders, and kitchen equipment is devoted to cranking out crowd pleasers. 

But during slower periods, Nathan can dedicate both time and resources to trying new things. “When we experiment, if we find a new offering that works, we can add it to the regular menu,” she says. That means a summer hit can become a year-round win. 

Ready to put summer downtime to good use? Seasoned bakers share their best insights.

Predict the Next Viral Pastry

One of the first desserts to hit cult status on social media was the Cronut®, a croissant-donut hybrid that sparked mile-long lines outside the Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York City. Bakeries across the country quickly put their own spin on the treat, hoping to satisfy local cravings for the New York original. The Cronut® was just the start—from mirror cakes to rainbow bagels, novelty viral treats can encourage excitement among customers—and boost bakery sales.

To capitalize on pastry trends, there’s no better place to start brainstorming ideas than social media. In the winter, Nathan noticed bread pudding was receiving a lot of attention on social channels, and she’s predicting the retro dessert may be making a comeback as the next viral pastry. In February, she had already decided part of her team’s time this summer would be devoted to trying different bread pudding flavor combinations and mix-ins to create a version that wows customers. 

Clean Things Up

More consumers are avoiding artificial ingredients like sweeteners, flavors and colors. While larger quick-service and fast-casual restaurants have led the clean label trend, it’s trickled down to independent bakeries as well. 

“We’re working on clean labels because that matters to our customers,” says Lynn Schurman, owner of Cold Spring Bakery in Cold Spring, Minnesota. 

Schurman isn’t alone in experiencing a demand for cleaner products. In fact, research conducted by Dawn Foods found 57 percent of consumers would pay more for foods that aren’t made with artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.

Rather than adding new products to the bakery’s menu, Schurman will spend time this summer revamping existing recipes. For instance, she’s experimenting with ways to make her bread stay fresher longer without using preservatives. “We need to compete with other places—and this is one way to compete,” she says. 

Bakeries can also talk to their suppliers about their clean label mix and ingredient offerings and how they can be used in existing recipes.

thinkstockphotos-533223810

Try Savory on for Size

Bacon infiltrated dessert menus years ago, but consumers’ appetite for savory sweets is still growing. Research provider Datassentialhas identified “new savory” as an emerging food trend, as more pastry chefs and bakers transform traditionally sweet pastries into savory concepts.

One reason savory has moved into the spotlight is that snacking has replaced many mealtime occasions, especially for younger consumers. In a Nielsen survey of over 30,000 consumers, 52 percent said they occasionally replace breakfast with a snack, and 43 percent replace lunch with a snack. 

By selling items like savory muffins and novelties like umami-packed croissants, bakeries can appeal to customers seeking an easy, savory portable snack. Danny Turner, owner of Pushkin’s Bakery in Sacramento, California, will be busy this summer experimenting with jalapeno cupcakes.

Have Sweets, Will Travel

Rather than worrying about how she’ll bring summer crowds into her bakery, Nathan plans to get outside herself. She’ll be selling muffins, scones, cinnamon rolls and cupcakes at summer farmer’s markets and festivals. 

These seasonal events won’t just boost sales during the summer slump, she says; they’ll also attract new customers who may not normally pass by her brick-and-mortar bakery.

Schurman is another bakery owner who tries to market to new customers at summer events. In addition, she occasionally sponsors dinners held locally in conjunction with the Country Music Association Awards, providing cupcakes for dessert. Other times, she’ll donate cakes for radio station contests. “We experiment to see what works,” she says. These types of partnerships can help bakeries reach new consumers who may not have otherwise learned about them.

While sales may decline once temperatures rise, bakeries can make the summer months count by testing new ways to boost menu offerings—and business.